I’ve just finished reading “All the Money in the World” by Peter Bernstein and Annalyn Swan chronicling the lives and fortunes of the “Forbes 400” (the wealthiest people in the world) over the ages.

There are a lot of different ways to spend your money – especially if you have a lot of it – but the members of the list who are most championed are those who came from modest backgrounds, became fabulously wealthy and then gave all of their money away before they died (or plan to, if they’re still living). This seems, to me, to be a very noble life – but it begs the question: if the life goal of these storied millionaires and billionaires is to help other people – could they have done better?

Certainly you could say that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is a remarkable force for good in the world (donating money to world health organizations and other such charities) – but who could say whether or not the ~$38 billion that comprises the fund would not have been better spent by those who contributed to it (mostly Microsoft’s customers)? It’s impossible to calculate, but perhaps Microsoft’s customers may have been able to collectively donate a larger sum than $38 billion had they each been charged less for Microsoft’s products and allowed to keep more of their own money. An interesting angle, no?

I’ve been kicking this idea around for a while, as the argument has some significant holes, but I do think there is something remarkably inefficient (in an economic sense) about one person controlling such a large pool of money.

One part of the book that I particularly liked was how it highlighted the ephemeral nature of wealth. Whether these wealthy people chose to spend their money on themselves, their businesses, or their wives, they all eventually faced the same conundrum. After all, the real problem with incredible wealth is that you can’t take it with you when you die.

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